Following the agitation by women workers of Kannan Devan Hills Plantation (KDHP) in Munnar, plantation workers across the state of Kerala are demanding higher wages and amenities.
Sporadic agitations in estates of Harrisons Malayalam and state-run Aralam Farm is likely to intensify further if the meeting of the Plantation Labour Committee, which will meet in the presence of the Labour Minister on September 26, fails to address the demands of the workers.
Meanwhile, the government agreed to amend the Plantation Labour Act to make available full medical benefits to the workers and their families and to improve their housing facilities.
Pembila Orumai (Unity of Women), the force behind the agitation in Munnar claims that trade unions have failed them. Women workers are demanding a salary of R500 and a bonus of 20%. At present, they get Rs 170 to Rs 230 per working day, which often stretches to 12 hours. The men, according to them, get the same wages for lighter tasks like fostering the plants. They allege that union leaders have been pocketing their rightful share of entitlements like bonuses.
The wages to plantation workers are not arbitrarily decided by the management but fixed through negotiations as per the law. The committee meets once in three years to discuss an increase in the daily wages of plantation workers in the state. Interestingly, tea prices in South India during the calendar year 2014 has dropped by Rs 15.85 per kg when compared to 2013, while during the current year [up to August] this trend continued as prices further dropped by Rs 6.08 per kg to reach Rs 80.42.
Officials of the United Planters’ Association of Southern India said the current crisis in the tea industry was comparable to the darkest phase in the tea sector during the beginning of this century.
Importantly, tea was the only plantation commodity where there was no significant difference in the price levels between the pre-crisis period and post crisis period, suggesting that industry was just about managing without any significant profits for the last many year, Upasi sources added.
“South India plantation industry pays one of the highest basic wages and it is as high as Rs 232 for the tea plantation workers in Kerala. These wages added with statutory and other benefits works out to Rs 410.72 per day,” Vijayan Rajes, President of UPASI said. “It is intriguing to note that the basic wage of tea plantation workers in Kerala has gone up by 5.19 times or 590% since 1995, while the average South India tea price has gone up only 1.95 times or 195%. The basic wage for a tea plantation worker in 1995 was Rs 44.71 per day and the average tea price was Rs 41.25, whereas the wage per day now is Rs 232 and the tea price is Rs 80.42 ,” he added.